Agua Hedionda Lagoon

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Agua Hedionda is connected to the Pacific Ocean between Tamarack Avenue and Cannon Road and includes three inter-connected lagoons, which are divided by the I-5 freeway and the railroad bridge. Active uses such as boating, water skiing and wake boarding, personal watercraft use, sailing, windsurfing and fishing are allowed in certain areas

The 66-acre outer lagoon, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, allows shore fishing and provides intake water for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. It’s also leased to an aquaculture company cultivating shellfish for a wide-ranging market.

The 27-acre middle lagoon is home to the North Coast YMCA Aquatic Park.

The 295-acre inner lagoon may be used for boating. To operate any vessel on the lagoon, you must meet certain requirements and purchase a permit. Permitted crafts include jet skis, power boats and passive vessels, like sail boats and kayaks. Annual permits and daily passive and power vessel permits are issued by the City of Carlsbad at the Harding Community Center, 3096 Harding St., where applications, requirement checklist and permits may be obtained by mail or in person.

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center, located at 1580 Cannon Road, offers public programs and outreach activities, such as exhibits, lectures and festivals celebrating the lagoon.

Before visiting the lagoon, be sure to review all rules and regulations

Protecting water quality in Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Agua Hedionda Lagoon is one of the natural gems of San Diego County and is a great place to boat, paddle, fish and enjoy a unique coastal ecosystem. While the lagoon is owned by Cabrillo Power 1 LLC, the cities of Carlsbad and Vista, the County of San Diego and other municipalities in the Agua Hedionda watershed group make protecting water quality in the lagoon a top priority to preserve this valuable resource.

Agua Hedionda lagoon map of water sample locations 6.2.2022

Over the years, these agencies have collected numerous water samples in the lagoon to monitor its quality of water. Samples have shown that the water is safe and meets state and federal standards for recreation.

In September 2022, the city and other agencies finished a year-long study measuring bacteria levels in the lagoon. . Samples were collected throughout the lagoon, as shown in the map. Sampling represents a variety of conditions, including high and low tides and wet and dry weather. 

The final results of the study show that bacteria levels (Enterococcus) in the lagoon are below state water quality objectives and that the water is safe for a variety of recreational uses. The figure below plots recent monitoring results relative to the water quality objective for Enterococcus, which is based on the geometric mean over a 6-week period. 

The final study report is located in the 2021-2022 Annual Report of the Carlsbad Watershed as Attachment 11 on the Project Clean Water website.

Agua Hedionda water quality graph

To help protect recreational uses in the lagoon, the watershed group takes proactive approaches to address potential sources of bacteria that can impact water quality. Bacteria can come from a wide range of sources that include wildlife, pet and human waste, faulty septic tanks and sewage infrastructure. Agencies in the watershed are taking actions to address each of these potential sources. You too can help protect water quality in the lagoon by always picking up after your pets.

Unfortunately, and despite the best maintenance efforts, sewage spills can sometimes occur. Local agencies are vigilant in tracking the status of their sewage collection systems and have emergency staff on call to immediately respond and contain any spills. If a spill impacts the lagoon, local agencies coordinate with San Diego County's Department of Environmental Health and Quality (DEHQ) to notify the public and post closure signs until water quality improves. 

Contact with the lagoon and other coastal waters during or following rain events is not recommended according to San Diego County’s DEHQ. When it rains, runoff from upstream areas can temporarily increase bacteria levels in the lagoon. For this reason, San Diego County’s DEHQ issues a general advisory to avoid water contact during the three days following a storm that produces more than 0.2 inches of rainfall. You can learn more about the status of current advisories.